In Northern Texas is Palo Duro Canyon State Park. South of Colorado, west of Oklahoma and east of New Mexico, Palo Duro Canyon is near Route 66, twenty miles south of the city of Amarillo, the largest city in the Panhandle of Texas and twelve miles east of Canyon, the College town of Canyon, Texas, with a good selection of motels and restaurants.The rim of the Palo Duro Canyon is at the same level as the flat countryside of the Texas Panhandle. The entrance to Texas’ second—largest state park is located at the northern tip of this 120—mile—long and 800—foot—deep canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States. You can drive to the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a paved road. There are six river crossings on the road through the canyon. Just beyond Crossing #2 is a large parking area at the trailhead for the Lighthouse Trail. The Lighthouse is a moderately strenuous trail that gradually climbs 940 feet in 2.7 miles to the viewpoint at the base of the iconic red rock formation called The Lighthouse, for a total round—trip hiking distance of 5.75 miles.
When I was twelve, my father took me, my mother, and my 2 sisters to Santa Cruz for a week at the Boardwalk, the largest amusement park on the West Coast, located 75 miles south of San Francisco. My father couldn’t take a week off work, so he loaded his family in our ‘39 Buick and drove us to one of the cabins across the street from the roller coaster-the Giant Dipper. I recently returned to Santa Cruz to photograph my favorite rides. The Giant Dipper is the oldest roller coaster in California and one of the oldest in the world. The all-wood structure opened in 1924 and was recently refurbished. It still shakes, flexes and rattles every time the red cars come roaring past you. If I ever take up video productions, this will be my first project.
The only route to the ghost town called Nelson is south of Henderson, Nevada, on U.S.Highway 95 past a ten-mile-long dry lake where you can often see motorcycles, quads, and every type of car trying for a personal speed record. Lots of dust is usually blowing out there so I kept my cameras wrapped up and stayed off the playa. To avoid getting stuck in slippery mud, stay off the playa for a few days after a rain. Just south of the playa, a sign on U.S.Highway 95 marks the left turn onto Route 165, the mountainous road to Nelson. In a few miles, you will see the little community of Nelson, off in the distance, as you follow the pavement. The town has a population of around 500. It’s not your destination. Stay on the paved road as it makes a sweeping bend to the east for a few more miles to a ghost town/junk collection in Eldorado Canyon, site of the notorious Techatticup Mine. Avoid the crowds that drive out to this remote location on sunny weekends. This is a midweek destination for the best photography. It’s worth stopping for a few hours if you like old rusty trucks and cars, old gas stations and barns covered with rusting petroleum signs. Small hand-painted signs direct photographers to pay a $10. fee at the General Store if they want admission to off-limit areas and barn interiors. Rusting pickups, Plymouths, Packards, and a large collection of rusty cab-over trucks are scattered everywhere, along with rusting bikes, antique gas pumps and an airplane resting nose-down into the canyon wall. The interior of the General Store is a museum covered wall-to-wall with dust-covered treasures, someone’s vision of the area’s gold mining days of long ago. In the general store, you can sign up for a tour of the gold mine. They also sell snacks and drinks at the store. The large Texaco sign is a rusty relic, no gas is available at Nelson. Gold was discovered here in 1851. Long veins of quartz were blasted out by digging miles of tunnels through hard rock. The ore was ground into fine powder and extracted with cyanide, a slow process producing an ounce of gold from a ton of ore. Gold, worth millions of dollars, was carted down to the river and shipped out of the desert on steamboats. Eldorado Canyon was a hide-out for deserters from both the Union and Confederate armies. The area was lawless and killings were common. Nelson’s Landing was destroyed by a 40-foot-high flash flood down Eldorado Canyon in 1974.
Bodie was one of the biggest and “baddest” of California’s gold mining boom towns in the 19th Century. William S. Body discovered gold in these mountains in 1859. Supposedly, a sign painter misspelled his name. It was really a deliberate change by the towns-people to insure proper pronunciation. Thirty-five million dollars worth of gold and silver was discovered in Bodie’s mines between 1877 and 1888. Stagecoaches and wagons arrived daily. The town’s population quickly swelled. Each new arrival hoped to strike it rich. Hundreds of active mining claims were filed. Most of the new residents worked the mines and lived in tents and wooden shacks. Wood was scarce. There was trouble with the local Paiutes when their sacred pinion pines were cut for lumber. The Indians relied on the protein-rich pinion nut for their winter diet. Winters were harsh, and lumber was needed to build a more substantial town. A forest of Jeffrey pines, miles to the south, was cut and milled. The lumber was delivered to Bodie on a newly-built railroad. The town grew to ten-thousand residents. With the hard work, miners sought relaxation and entertainment in the saloons. There were sixty-five saloons in Bodie. Bar room brawls, street fights, shootouts, and robberies were a daily occurrence. Bodie soon gained a reputation as the most lawless of the “Wild West” towns. The boom years were short-lived. By 1890, the mines were shutting down. It was reported that over a hundred million dollars in gold was taken from the mines of Bodie. By 1940, the town was empty.
Today Bodie is a ghost of its former glory. It is the largest and best preserved gold mining ghost town in California. In 1964, it was purchased by California and declared a state historical park, a part of California all photographers must explore. To photograph the interiors of Bodie’s buildings, several techniques work well. A polarizing filter will eliminate most or all of the reflections in a window. If you want to photograph an interior but can’t get inside, move up as close as possible to the window. A rubber lens shade pushed up against the glass will cut out any reflections. Dark clothing helps to reduce reflections. Carry a rag or a pocket full of wet-wipes to clean a spot on a dusty window. The low angle of the morning sun, especially in early spring and late autumn, is best when it illuminates the buildings in sidelight. Front light will reveal the most details with no dark shadows; it is often boring and too flat. Back light can be dramatic. Contrast problems require increasing exposure to show some shadow detail. Increasing exposure will usually wash out the sky, and you’ll lose your clouds. Sidelight is my favorite illumination on the weathered remains of Bodie. It can reveal some details, and it can hide some details. It can be dramatic and stark, and it can show form, shape, and textures. Low morning sun or late afternoon sun is best.
Just a tiny black dot on my AAA road map, Amboy is known for an iconic art deco sign facing a lonely stretch of the original historic Route 66. Halfway between the towns of Barstow and Needles, California, and near the edge of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, this is the middle of the Mojave Desert. Amboy was originally settled in 1858. It did not become an official town until 1883 when the railroad tracks arrived. The opening of Route 66 brought tourists and traffic to Amboy. In 1938, Roy Crowl opened Roy’s Cafe and Motel with the only gas station and lodging in that part of the Mojave. Highway 40, a fast multi—lane superhighway a few miles to the north, displaced Route 66 in 1973 and Roy’s business never recovered. Due to lack of water, the kitchen has been closed. The cafe now sells gifts and Route 66 souvenirs. Thriller and low—budget horror films have been shot at Roy’s. The current owner is also the owner of the original McDonalds in San Bernardino, California, which is now a museum. A gallon of unleaded gas at Roy’s sells for twice what you’d pay elsewhere. A tall wire fence behind the gas station, cafe, and motel cabins keeps photographers away from all the interesting things beyond– the old school, an old hanger and an air strip (one of the first in California), and many weathered sheds and lodgings. Weathered by the desert sun behind the windows of the motel lobby is a piano and a wooden carousel horse. There are abstract patterns everywhere, including the sweeping, triangular roof over the motel’s lobby casting long shadows across the wide parking lot. For the best light on the fading colors of Roy’s sign, set up your camera facing west in morning light and facing east in the afternoon. Both angles work well. Look west to include the cafe and gas station beyond the Roy’s sign in the morning. In the afternoon, you’ll see a long line of white motel cabins beyond the Roy’s sign. That sign is a major icon on the list of historic roadside American signs.
The spring wildflower season starts in February on the lower deserts of Southern California. The low deserts of Anza—Borrego State Park, almost on the Mexican border, are usually the first places to see the arrival of spring color. I prefer the greater variety in the desert environments to be found further north, especially at Joshua Tree National Monument, only a few miles east of Palm Springs, California. Joshua Tree can be a great place to photograph blankets of poppies, clover, lupine, mallows and small desert sunflowers covering the sandy, dry washes and the rocky hillsides. Even if wildflowers do not appear in great masses, there are many other things to discover in Joshua Tree. The geology is fascinating. There are old mines to explore, and the Joshua trees, yuccas, and many varieties of cactus to be photographed make this trip worthwhile.
This exploration of the coastline of Florida’s Panhandle starts in Tallahassee, surrounded by forest trails, lakes, fascinating geological formations and natural springs large enough to feed rivers. I photographed state and national parks near Tallahassee before heading west to follow and photograph the 250-mile coastline to Pensacola. This trip starts along the Big Bend Coastline, the northwestern part of Florida where Florida’s Gulf Coast bends toward the west to meet Alabama. Wherever it was possible, I followed the edge of the Gulf. Route 30A took me into the town of Seaside, an odd version of a storybook beach community. All the traffic on Route 30A is routed down the main street of Seaside, the location used to film the 1998 Jim Cary movie called the Truman Show. It was a good place to stop for lunch and some explorations. I did find interesting beach scenes, colorful bicycle patterns, and lots of pastel architectural studies. Here are America’s most beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife refuges, lighthouses and a historic fort.
One of the oldest roads in the United States, and probably the oldest still in use, is Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, an Indian trail in the 1300’s. “El Camino del Canyon” connected the Santa Fe pueblo and the pueblo at Pecos to the southeast. The road was used by woodcutters to bring firewood into town on their burros. In the 1920’s, a small community of artists took up residence along Canyon Road. Today, over one—hundred shops and galleries can be found along a seven— block length of this narrow road. Allow at least a half—day to explore Canyon Road. Start at the western end, where Canyon Road intersects with Paseo de Peralta, and walk eastward. Morning light casts strong shadows across doors that are mostly painted a traditional shade of blue. The muted earth tones of adobe walls accentuate the bright, contrasting colors of hanging ristras, or strings of red chili peppers. Window boxes filled with red geraniums reflect in the old glass of hand made windows. If you are searching for black—and—white images, look for simple patterns of light and shadow, and textures revealed by strong cross lighting. Watch for hand made doors of weathered wood and brightly painted wood. Some doors open onto court yards and gardens of bright flowers, cactus, and weeds. Discover courtyards in full sun and others shaded by cottonwoods and Russian olive trees. Canyon Road is lined with expensive homes, designed to look like simple adobe haciendas. Most are surrounded by walled courtyards and tall cottonwood trees. These houses are often quite deceptive from the outside. These simple, mud—colored adobe homes of low rectangular shapes have been softly rounded by the hands of craftsmen working and building in an ancient style–the style that all of Santa Fe has adopted. Morning light illuminates only half the scenes along Canyon Road. Return in the late afternoon and walk the other side of the road. One of my favorite spots is the old gate on the southwest corner of Canyon and Delgato Roads. If you find a car parked in front of your favorite spot, come back later in the day and try again.
I left Interstate 10 at Exit 260 in Tucson and headed south on Interstate 19. At Exit 92 I headed west and drove about one mile to the oldest continuously occupied church in North America - San Xavier del Bac. More than 200 years ago, Franciscans picked this site to build their mission and start construction of the present adobe church called “White Dove of the Desert.” From the outside, a white dome is a landmark that can be seen for miles. Only one steeple was ever finished, affecting the symmetry but not the beauty of the architecture. The workers never finished building the east bell tower, so only one completed tower rises above the facade. With the right camera angle, it is not noticeable. To the east of the cathedral is a wide trail that climbs to an overlook on a nearby hill. This easy climb leads to a view that includes the white dome at the rear of the building that is not seen from the front. Thunder storms blown in from the Gulf are common in southern Arizona during the monsoon season, a welcome addition to a clear desert sky over San Xavier.
If you are planning to take an African safari to photograph wildlife in Kenya, Tanzania, or Botswana, start by applying for or updating your passport and then getting in a few days of practice at your local zoo. A trip to a zoo will give you the opportunity to learn how to operate your camera properly so that you can capture the best possible photos of all the creatures you will find in the wild. Even if you have no plans for international travel, a photo trip to the zoo can be interesting and enjoyable. You are prohibited from using a flash unit in most zoos. Flash can frighten and chase off the creatures. A flash will usually give you “red—eye” type problems and glare on glass enclosures. Some zoo enclosures have artificial lighting. Make a few text exposures to fine—tune your white balance, especially if you are shooting JPEG format. When you are shooting RAW files, all the data recorded is available later to correct and fine tune your images. Almost any error you make when shooting a RAW image can be corrected later. JPEG images are processed in your camera and much of the data is discarded. Some cameras can shoot both formats at the same time so you have a choice later. Check with zoo officials to determine if tripods or a monopod are permitted. On a busy weekend, someone is likely to trip over your tripod leg. I pack a monopod to avoid this.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.